Dossier: A Few Notes on Our Food Problem


A Few Notes On Our Food Problem from CinemaPacific on Vimeo.

The James Blue Project is pleased to make available this streaming copy of James Blue’s pioneering essay film, which, in spite of the official restrictions prohibiting United States Information Agency films from being released in the United States, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature of 1968. The film examines, visually and poetically, the efforts by people on three continents to improve agricultural methods and conquer world hunger. Below, you will find  some of the fascinating materials found in the James Blue Archive that illuminate the film’s production and reception.

Notes on the film print

One of the two 16mm prints of A Few Notes in the James Blue Archive, which had been in the possession of Blue’s brother Richard for many years, was discovered to be in far better condition than other known extant prints.

For example,  the National Archives recently restored Blue’s USIA films, and did a magnificent job producing glorious copies of The March and Blue’s Colombia Trilogy. However, the Archives’ print of  A Few Notes, Blue’s first color film, is seriously faded. It is therefore a great relief and pleasure for the James Blue Archive team to be able to work, with the blessing of Criss Kovac and other friends at the National Archives, on preserving a print that gives a better sense of the original film’s rich colors. This digital transfer was generously supported by the James and Richard Blue Foundation.

Screenshot from James Blue Archives print

Screenshot National Archives print






A film by James Blue
Year of release: 1968
Produced by the United States Information Agency
Filmed in Taiwan, India, Kenya, and Brazil
Photographed and co-directed by Stevan Larner
Co-written by James Blue and Gill Dennis
Edited by Lee Alexander and Meyer Odze
Running time: 35 min.
35mm color sound film



  •     Nominee for Best Documentary Feature, 1969 Academy Awards


  •    “Golden Eagle” from CINE (Council on International Non-Theatrical Events)


  •    Best Documentary and Best Color Cinematography at the 11th International Film Festival Vancouver





James Blue’s modestly titled A Few Notes on Our Food Problem (1966-68) has claim, through the force of its message and its cinematic beauty, to be regarded as one of the few really great documentaries…Blue, having possessed himself of all of the facts and statistics and arguments, constructed his film from original shooting in Africa, Asia and the New World in the form of a poem infused with passion and compassion, anger and hope, and above all a feeling for the real goodness to be found everywhere in ordinary folk. —Basil Wright, The Long View: An International History of Cinema

One person at Buffalo who certainly influenced me was James Blue, who was also one of my teachers at UCLA. He was a documentary filmmaker, a guy who’s pretty important in the development of the essay film in the United States …. particularly a film he made in 1968 for the United States Information Agency called A Few Notes on Our Food Problem. Thom Andersen


Synopsis by James Blue

 The situation is staggering. The Earth is producing people at a faster rate than food to feed them. Scientific methods are needed to grow more food, but in most developing nations, farmers still use ancient techniques. The film-maker takes us over three continents in search of images which illustrate the problem.

In series of scenes, peasants in Asia, Africa, and Latin America confront us with the harsh realities of their lives. We learn  why it ‘makes sense’ not to grow more food.

For too long, the traditional farmer has been thought of as irrational and unambitious. Here, he emerges a man with shrewd judgment, capable of surprising change. He is no longer content with his grass shack and bullock. He wants more out of life. If he can live better on the farm he will grow more food. If he cannot live better he may abandon the farm and go to the city making a bad situation even worse.

The unambitious peasant is a thing of the past. The problem facing those nations today which must increase their food supply is that they are dealing with a dissatisfied modern man.


Script of A Few Notes: Narration, Titles, and Visuals

Screenplay: A Few Notes on Our Food Problem

Downloadable PDF: A Few Notes on Our Food Problem Screenplay



James Blue on A Few Notes

In August 1971, a cor­respondence developed between Anil Srivastava of the Cinema Workshop in New Delhi, and James Blue, while Srivastava was researching an article for Movement magazine. The main topic discussed was Blue’s film­making activities for the United States Information Agency (USIA) between 1962 and 1968.

Downloadable PDF: Blue Correspondence on "Food" film

Downloadable PDF: Blue Correspondence on “Food” film


Richard Blue introduces A Few Notes at the University of Oregon

James Blue’s brother Richard introduced A Few Notes at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s Schnitzer Cinema series on December 11, 2013. The screening was part of Cinema Pacific’s six-month Tribute to James Blue. Richard Blue’s  career spans five decades as a Foreign Service Officer and an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

Richard Blue on “A Few Notes on Our Food Problem” from CinemaPacific on Vimeo.


Article on the making of A Few Notes

Downloadable PDF: James Blue/Documentary by Robert LaRue (Old Oregon, May-June 1968)

Downloadable PDF: James Blue/Documentary by Robert LaRue (Old Oregon, May-June 1968)


Rice University Professor Blue’s exam questions  on Food as an expository essay film

James Blue's Rice University Essay Assignment on "Food" film

James Blue’s Rice University Essay Assignment on “Food” film


Samples of James Blue’s research materials

Here are just a few samples of materials that are now being processed and catalogued in the James Blue archive at UO Special Collections.

Blue Food Research Notebook Sample Page 3

Blue Food Research Notebook Sample Page 3

Blue Food Research Notebook Sample Page 2

Blue Food Research Notebook Sample Page 2

Blue Food Research Notebook Sample Page 1

Blue Food Research Notebook Sample Page 1



Research Tape Box 1

Research Tape Box 1

Research Tape Box 2

Research Tape Box 2

Letters from James Blue to Bruce Herschensohn

James Blue agonized about his film productions and his abilities as a filmmaker, as evidenced in his notebooks and letters. It was difficult for him to let go of A Few Notes, and there were several letters to Bruce Herschensohn, Director of Motion Pictures and Television at the USIA, requesting the opportunity to re-edit the film after it had been submitted as complete. Samples of these can be seen here:

Blue to Herschensohn Sept 1968  p1

Blue to Herschensohn Sept 1968 p1


Blue to Herschensohn Letter 9-17-68


Blue to Herschensohn 10-7-68

One thought on “Dossier: A Few Notes on Our Food Problem

  • February 4, 2016 at 8:01 am

    Thank you James Blue Project (and Archives) for this Dossier on A Few Notes. This is exactly the kind of output we envisioned for the James Blue Archive. It is great to see the background documents tied to the film. Nice Work!

    Dan (nephew of James)


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